Paleontology is the study of prehistoric plants and animals that lived many, many years ago, but just because it’s old news doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Exploring and learning with your kids about animals such as dinosaurs and the methods we use to study them can be an absolute blast. Plus, it’s a great excuse to roll your sleeves up and get a little dirty.
1. Make your own cast and mold fossils
There are four main types of fossils: mold, cast, trace and petrified. This activity from Rosie Research allows your child to make their own mold and cast fossils. Using the recipe in the article (which only calls for flour, salt and sand), whip up a batch of salt playdough to use as your “rock”. Because the recipe for the playdough is so simple, the hardest part is just going to be deciding what to turn into a fossil. While the article suggests sea shells, barnacles, or animal bones which all have natural properties, a plastic toy or any solid object or plastic toy will do. After completing the activity, your child will have a fossil keepsake. They’ll also understand a little bit more about how fossils are formed and also the difference between mold and cast specimens.
2. Make amber fossil slime
While it’s true that the objects paleontologists study to learn about extinct species are often fossils, they’re not the only type of specimen that provide valuable information. Prehistoric animals and plants can also be preserved in amber. Use this fun and playful recipe from Totally the Bomb to make some ooey-gooey Jurassic World inspired amber slime. Though different in consistency than actual amber (it’s made with glue and borax!) it still teaches the concept of how insects and animals could get trapped and preserved so that we can study them many years later.
3. Conduct a fossil dig
A big part of paleontology involves archaeology and digging to actually locate fossils and other specimens. So roll up your sleeves and put together one of these five different fossil digs from Edventures for your kids! Replicate an artic dig with “fossils” frozen into an ice block, or excavate dinosaur “bones” out of sand. Any of the five options will get your child to thinking about excavation and how fossils are retrieved from the Earth so paleontologists can study them.
4. Whip up this edible sedimentary rock treat
Just having fossils doesn’t tell a paleontologist enough about the animal or plant that they’re from -- it’s also necessary to examine and date them. One such method is relative dating, which can be done through stratigraphy. Stratigraphy analyzes a fossil’s placement in a layer of rocks to help determine its age in relation to the layers around it. To learn about rock layers and how they form, you can make this delicious sedimentary rock treat from Rainy Day Mum with your kids.
5. Put together this dino excavation kit
With this DIY excavation kit from Live raft Love your kid can take their excavation site anywhere. Equipped with digging tools (a brush and utensils), this little kit is portable and fun. Bury plastic dinosaurs in them, or maybe hide some of your homemade fossils. The instructions also provide recipes for “dirt” of varying consistencies, so you can make it softer for younger diggers if necessary.
There’s no bones about it -- paleontology is a fascinating science! With these activities, your kid can explore their interest in dinosaurs and other prehistoric plants and animals. We’re betting that the more your child digs into paleontology, the more curious they’ll get.